Plastic on the Ganges
– a VR series

Approximately nine million tons of plastic waste end up in our oceans and water systems every year, threatening ecosystems, wildlife and the health of billions of people. Dive into our 3-part VR series about the impact of plastics on everyday life along the river Ganges in India, to get a better understanding of the problem.

The three episodes take you to several small and large communities along the river Ganges, where you get to meet the people whose lives are inextricably intertwined with plastic as a material – just like most of us. It was directed by Martin Edström and filmed by IVAR Studios during the 2019 Plastic: Sea to Source expedition funded by the National Geographic Society.

Episode 1 – Generation Plastic

The first episode of the VR series takes you to a small rural community outside of Kannauj in India. This village represents thousands of similar communities along the river that live in close connection to the water, depending on it for their livelihood and as a food and water supply.

Generation Plastic | Plastic on the Ganges
Watch Plastic on the Ganges: Generation Plastic on Youtube or in a VR-headset.
Poonam and her family are deeply affected by plastic in the Ganges.
Poonam, her kids and her husband are featured in the first episode of the series called ‘Generation Plastic’

The episode features Poonam, a mother of three, as well as the sage voice of the elderly man Om Prakash. They live in the same village, and have seen different stages of how plastic enters a community.

Om Prakash remembers a time before plastic existed, at least in life as he knew it at the time. He used to work as a farmer, and recalls how he relied on very few things from the outside in his daily life. Now, however, he says ‘plastic is absolutely everywhere. You can’t buy a single piece of food without it packaged in plastic’.

Om Prakash sells foods, crisps and sweets – all packaged in tiny packets of plastic.

The irony is that from his previous work as a farmer, he has had to turn to opening a shop instead – selling food, crisps and sweets in tiny plastic containers.

Episode 2 – The Living River

Did you know that half of the plastic in our oceans and our water systems consists of fishing nets? The second episode of the VR series takes you into how the problem of fishing nets impacts local fishermen, their families and their communities.

The Living River | Plastic on the Ganges
Watch Plastic on the Ganges: The Living River on Youtube or in a VR-headset.
Fisherman Ganga Sahni lives along the river Ganges in India
Ganga Sanhi is featured in the episode called ‘The Living River’

The second episode features Ganga Sanhi, fisherman and father. He lives in a community on the very banks of the river Ganges, close to Dhani Phatti. This whole community relies on fishing for sustenance, which means fishing it’s just sold as a commodity but feeds the families of the fishermen.

Over the course of his life, Ganga describes how his daily catch of fish has gone from bountiful to pitiful. He says they catch less fish, smaller fish and sometimes simply can’t find any fish stocks at all.

A local fisherman preparing fishing nets on the banks of the river Ganges

All over India, fishermen have even had to resort to using tiny webbing – like that of mosquito nets – to catch fish of smaller sizes. Where they could once use regular size webbing, this rapid descent into using fine-weave fishing nets signals the decline in size of fish and fish stocks alike.

Episode 3 – Turning the Tide

How do we turn the tide of plastic pollution, to help save ecosystems and future generations from the build-up of plastic materials? That was one of the key considerations of the Plastic: Sea to Source Expedition along the Ganges. The expedition took place in 2019, and is the focus of the third episode of the series.

Turning The Tide | Plastic on the Ganges
Watch Plastic on the Ganges: The Living River on Youtube or in a VR-headset.
Expedition Co-Lead Heather Koldewey while being filmed with a 360-video camera for the series

Featuring Expedition Co-lead Heather Koldewey, the third episode of the VR series takes us into the scientific perspective and the questions being asked by the research team. Following in the footsteps of the 2019 expedition, we get to explore parts of the Ganges with them to understand what we need to know about these materials before we can become a part of the solution.

Scientists Imogen Napper and Sunanda Bhola getting silt samples from the bottom of the Ganges riverbed

This means the expedition team included research both on land, in the water and in communities along the Ganges. Getting silt samples from the bottom of the Ganges to look for microplastics was just as important as interviewing the villagers about their relationship to plastic. All to get a comprehensive view of the problem, and to find solutions going forward.

To truly tackle plastic pollution, we all need to change our own consumption patterns as well as change the systems that keep all of us relying on plastic in our everyday lives.

Behind the scenes

Martin Edström and IVAR Studios team members Fredrik Edström and Oliver Akermo joined the large team put together by the National Geographic Society to lead VR storytelling on site along the Ganges as the expedition progressed. We worked alongside the scientists to meet, capture and feature the stories of the very people whose daily lives are heavily intertwined and often impacted by plastic.

The VR team

Field team

Martin Edström, Director
Fredrik Edström, Producer
Oliver Akermo, VR Cinematographer
Veda Shastri, VR Producer
Ravi Mishra, Field Producer

Post-production team

Martin Edström, Director
Oliver Akermo, Editor, IVAR Studios
Sofia Hallgren, Composer
Mats Blomberg, audio mix, PLOP

For National Geographic Society

Vanessa Serrao
Sarah Joseph
Tyler Dinley
Wesley Della Volla
Sydney Guthrie

Special thanks

Sandra Elvin

More Plastic projects

Also take a look at Martin’s longer project about Everest trash, telling the story of plastics in the Himalayas on the tourist trekking route to Mt Everest.